The relationship between a parent and child is one of the most unique and intimate relationships that the law attempts to regulate.

It is important to highlight the fact that in the Children’s Act responsibilities is mentioned before parental rights, and one can assume that the legislature did this in order to emphasize the importance of the responsibilities of parents in respect of their children.

The acquisition of parental responsibilities and rights is not limited to the parents of a child as it is also possible for third parties to acquire and lose parental responsibilities and rights.

Section 18(2) of the Children’s Act identifies four main parental responsibilities and rights, which includes caring for the child, having contact with the child, contributing to the maintenance of the child and acting as the guardian of a child.

As a result of Section 19 of the Children’s Act, the biological mother of a child, irrespective of whether she is married or not, has full parental responsibilities and rights with regards to her child/children.

Section 20 of the Children’s Act grants automatic responsibilities and rights to a father in two instances – if he is married to the child’s mother, or if he was married to her at the time of conception, birth or any time in between.

In terms of Section 21 an unmarried father can automatically obtain responsibilities and rights in one of two ways. Section 21(a) of the Children’s Act states that an unmarried father can acquire these responsibilities and rights if he lived with the mother in a permanent life partnership at the time of the child’s birth. Even if the father has never been in a permanent life partnership with the child’s mother, he can also obtain responsibilities and rights if he meets the three requirements which is set out in Section 21(b) of the Children’s Act. These requirements include that he has to: (1) Consent or apply to be identified as the father or pay damages in terms of the customary law; (2) Contributes or attempt in good faith to contribute to expenses in connection with the maintenance of the child for a reasonable period; and (3) contributes or attempt in good faith to contribute to the upbringing of the child for a reasonable period.

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Author – Kate – Bailey Hill

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